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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What Became of Old What's His Face?

I used to get a lot of positive comment response when I couldn't sleep at night and would channel that energy into really random and rambling blogposts.  A couple of readers even seemed to draw some perverse pleasure from my insomnia. You know who you are. I've been so gosh darned focused on maintaining some journalistic integrity on my experiences here in China that I haven't really given in to my dark blogger side.  But tonight I shall.  The mind at 2:42 A.M. is a sneaky beast.  After you've checked email and facebook what else is left to do but go to google (which only really works in China when 1.4 billion Chinese succumb to sleep and get the heck off the internet).  Here's where things turn random.  Like I say, the mind is a sneaky beast.  Things loll around on the floor of your brain doing goodness knows what until they surface.  Tonight it was a name from the summer of 1973.  I was a sweet young thing waitress in Jackson Hole, WY, having the time of my life.  On the particular day I'm remembering tonight I'm in a boat crossing Jenny Lake on my way to hike on the other side.  I begin to talk to a young man making the same crossing--Emil Lippe--a recent Northwestern law school graduate on his way back to his home in Texas.  We hike--it gets a little foggy here--and then I remember he asked me to accompany him to Star Valley Wyoming the next day to check out some real estate.  No doubt he saw dollar signs in his future.  I remember Star Valley Ranch in its early stages had the advertising slogan: " Put Your Brand On a Hunk of Land!"  We wrote a few times.  His name must have subconsciously surfaced a few times when I passed through Star Valley.  How else would I still be able to pull up that name?  It's a weird name!  As those memories are lolling around on the floor of our brains are they doing deep knee bends????  Bench pressing?  Makes you wonder.  If you google Emil Lippe you'll immediately pull up multiple sites--he's made a name for himself in Dallas!  Has his own firm.  His credentials are long and impressive.  I dug a little deeper and found an interesting case he defended that drug on for a dozen years!!!!!!  In the end the humble Hispanic whistleblower was awarded $160,000 for an unlawful job termination.  He was ever so grateful that he could now buy much-needed diabetic medicine AND that he was vindicated.  At the time of  his firing he lost a car he couldn't afford to make payments on.  The article further stated that Mr. Lippe was awarded $450,000 and some loose change for legal services rendered.  Perhaps he bought the whole darn ranch with it.  I dunno.  Am I the only one who googles old friends in the middle of the night?  And if you do, does it ever make you wonder what crazy twists your life might have taken if you'd fanned any of those embers?  This is all reminding me of another name from my "Hole" days--there were three summers of them.  I'll get back to you if I dredge anything more up.  I'll leave you with a question--why does my brain cough up these names from the past willy nilly but so deserts me when I ask it to remember where the heck I put my bus card?????

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I Ching

One of my students, Chris, is a handsome bright young man and has attended my classes for almost two semesters, so when he offered to tell my fortune through the ancient art of I Ching I willingly gave him my birthdate, birth time, and the latitude and longitude of my birthplace!  He took his task most seriously and showed up last week with my hand-written fortune--not in one but TWO versions which I share here.  Because I just can't resist, I have put my responses in parentheses.  (You knew I'd want to comment, right?)

First Version

My mother would be very beautiful (she was) and would strongly influence me (boy howdy...).  I would have misunderstandings with my parents, but the bonds of love would still be strong in spite of the generation gap. (In the absence of a couch, we'll just let this suffice.  Misunderstandings?  How could you NOT?)

My life will be influenced by moves (I lost count at 25...) which would reduce the capacity for wealth.  (At this point I became somewhat of a believer in this whole I Ching!)  My life's work would be related to education/arts/liberal arts and my talents would lean towards writing--perhaps reporting. (That explains why I have such snoop tendencies, I guess.)

I can expect some sorts of problems with my digestive system (oh great...), but through it all, I will have strong determination and servants/friends who will be willing to help in case I need them.

Kids?  That was less open and clear.  (I'm sort of glad that part was vague.  I don't want to rock any boats...)

Partner?  (Here's where it gets interesting.)  I will have different opinions from my partner.  Marry late to avoid this!!!  (NOW you tell me!)  But if I marry late, we will respect each other, and I will be granted freedom!  (Paco has truly liberated me!)

Siblings?  We will not have much time for each other.  (how tragic!)

Real Estate?  I should try to keep it.  (Alpacas and all.)

2nd Version

My life will be stable and lucky.  (Define that!  We have a stable.  Does that count?)

I will always be on the move.  (A theme.)

I should pay attention to mouth/throat problems.  (They lead to my stomach, right?)

I will prefer to make money on my own.  (As opposed to stealing it, I guess.)

Kids?  (Ah, here it is!)  Honest.  (Sometimes too.)  Government work?

Marriage should be late, and my husband will be gentle.  (That he is.)

Siblings?  OK.  (Maybe that's because we won't have much time for each other!  Ha Ha.  The time we have is GREAT!)

So there you have it.  No crystal balls, no palms, no spitting into livers.  Just a three thousand year old Chinese art.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"I Like Yer Country!"

A while back I was sitting in the waiting room at the U.S. consulate waiting to renew my passport.  Because I had been "stripped" of everything at the security entrance, I just had to sit and people watch.  I was handsomely rewarded when a bowlegged gray-haired caucasian guy in a Big Nose Kate's Saloon t-shirt (see above picture--although, in full interest of honest disclosure the shirt actually read:  Big Nose Kate's Saloon--"The gal that loved Doc Holliday and everyone else."--Tombstone, Wasila, AK).  He stepped up to the service window and turned on the charm to the unsuspecting young Chinese clerk.

"I like yer country!" he began.  "That train was fast!"  Apparently this gentleman had come from another part of the Sichuan province to conduct his business here in Chengdu.  Like the good snoop that I am, I cocked one ear in his direction. (Note to reader:  Play along here and see where it takes you.)  I got the following clues:  "You need proof of being single? And proof of who I am going to marry?  I can go and get her.  She's across the street.  So basically what I'm writing out here is that I'm a single man?"

This was pretty good stuff!  I had it all laid out in my mind.  And also like any good busybody, I couldn't resist further interrogation after he left the window.  I learned that besides being fairly amiable, he was an oil worker in the fields of Alaska.  This Chinese gal and he had met on the internet, corresponded for a couple of years, and now he had come to make it all legal!!!  She had a teaching contract to fulfil in a remote part of the province somewhere.  He was needing to return to Alaska, but they would be conducting their marriage in this long distance manner for an unspecified time.  Whew...  I wished him well and left the consulate.  It wasn't until I'd retrieved my belongings and was headed back to the bus (no doubt the image of this new couple firmly locked into my imagination as I shook my head) that my subconscious literally screamed in my ear--"HEY, HE'S ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENT FROM YOU AND PACO!!!!!"  I stand corrected...

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


We need to drop back a little here.  Sure as shooting someday when I've reached the Depends stage of my life, someone will say, "Mad, have you ever been to Vietnam?" because I assume rest home conversations sometimes take those kinds of abrupt detours.  If I don't take a minute to document my time there, I will (if you'll excuse me) be caught with my Depends down UNLESS I can reach over onto my nightstand, shuffle under the bills and junk mail, and pull out my printed blog book!  "Why, yes!"  I'll say. " Back in early '15.   Dickens of a times we had there!"

This cozy couple looks like they're attached, don't they?  Nope.  She was posing with all manner of sailors.  Didn't know a one of them.  I assumed that because she and a girlfriend sauntered off arm in arm later on.

History re-written.  Anyone care to comment?

This was sobering.  Couldn't get out of there fast enough.  Some of the BYU teachers wouldn't even come on this tour of Vietnam/Cambodia because of ghosts from their past.  I don't have direct ghosts--just the kind many Americans have when they visit the memorial in DC and see the vets there...

On a lighter side...Halong Bay--a tourist's 3 hour tour dose of a gorgeous UNESCO site.  "Just sit right back and I'll tell the tale..." 

A shout out to my new camera!  No light?  No problemo!!!! 

You get the idea.  This place was eye socket wrenchingly beautiful. 

Vietnam!!! Who knew? 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Bringing My Mother to China

When you come to China to teach, you are allowed one bag and one carry-on by the airlines.  We paid a whopping sum to bring an additional suitcase each--because, well, gee whizz.  This isn't a vacation, right?  Packing those bags required taking out some good stuff at the very very end because we had exceeded our 50 pound limit--my boots, a jacket, books...But what the airlines neglected to tell us is that departed spirits could travel free and weightless in our luggage!  I didn't become aware of this until last Monday when I was sitting with a large smelly pig feed bag in my lap, cutting off the seams.   Let me back up.  During our stay in Cambodia in February, I took the cultural opportunity with two other BYU teachers, Sandy and Kathleen, to attend a 3 hour cement bag tutorial in a local craft shop.

Our instructors were two ridiculously cute and tiny Cambodian women.  We were barely into the project before one of them disappeared momentarily and then returned bearing large green coconuts almost as big as she was with straws stuck in the top.  So we alternately sucked coconut milk and cranked away on these pre-Columbian (well, almost) sewing machines.  The cement dust flew, the machines chugged, and the 2 foot long rusty scissors/thread snippers were passed around among the three of us.  The bags took shape, we sweated, and our miniature teachers patiently rethreaded the machines.  I need only insert one word here for the reader (who has also sewed) to fully grasp (and probably begin twitching) the true terror of these machines---T-E-N-S-I-O-N. .. Now that you are THERE with us, you would also have appreciated the spontaneous belly laughs from our instructors when I discovered my writing was upside down on the back of the bag, so I slapped a big old pocket on it.  They thought that was just hysterically hilarious.  Incidentally, these cement bags are $39 on etsy thank-you-very-much.  I'm so rarely cutting edge.

(Madd, you're losing them.  Keep it moving!)

Sooo, now you know why last Saturday as we were touring the ancient village of Xinchang, it was completely serendipitous that I would chance upon a pile of abandoned bags tucked away in a dirty corner which just SCREAMED to be recycled into bags!  AND THAT'S HOW I DISCOVERED THAT MY MOTHER, MARTHA TAGGART, HAD STOWED AWAY IN MY LUGGAGE AND HAD BEEN IN CHINA ALL ALONG!  Making bags out of recycled cement and pig feed bags would have been as natural as sneezing for her.  She was the reigning QUEEN (am I overdoing the caps?) of turning unlikely materials (clay pigeons, baby food jars, drapery samples etc.) into candle holders, vases, and bell bottom pants etc.  She reached her zenith when my grandmother's nylon Sunday dresses (polka dots, flowers, paisleys) ended up as unmentionables in my underwear drawer!  I tell you, the woman was gifted.  Can I blame her for the pig feed sack smelling up our little laundry room?  I think that's appropriate.  Perhaps that whistler through the stone wall who has been the background music of life here for 7 months is also channeling my father.  Just one question--who else hopped into our bags at the last moment?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Something Old, Something New

Paco and I met in Beijing 18 years ago this coming July.  It's a mildly interesting story--most people would not take me for a mail-order girlfriend, nor would they ever be "guilty" of conclusively accusing Jerry of doing anything the least bit frivolous.  Internet dating and romance (on first glance) is usually followed by the following:  scandalous, risky, shallow, and skanky.  Our story hopefully shares more optimism and class than those words conjure.  Next August we will return to Beijing to teach in China for yet another year.  I hope to find that gate in the airport where I emerged--knees knocking--and saw a brown-haired, horn-rimmed glassed gentleman holding a hastily scribbled name tag bearing my name.  Perhaps we can petition the Chinese officials to allow us to put a small brass plaque nearby--inconspicuous unless you're looking for it.  My brief experience with Chinese officials leads me to believe a plaque will never happen.  The best we can hope for is most likely a brief inconspicuous re-enactment.  A few astute Chinese may look on but mostly that little moment will be very private.
(Here we are taking a tri-pod selfie at Mutianyu on the Great Wall--December 31, 1997.  This became the picture for our wedding announcement.  We had the entire wall to ourselves.  If you come and visit, we'll take you there!)

Let's all put our stubby little dimple-fingered hands together for Calvin Taggart Giles born a week ago in Roseville, CA!!  As you can see, an adoring cast of three stands at the ready to deal an extra hand to him, share a pool floatie, and call him "Brother."  Happy happy happy times.  What a blessing are children.  The one child policy was initiated in China in 1979--the very year the father of these 4 was born.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Hong Kong!

 We passed on the "Mushroom Wagyu Burger".  I'm pretty picky when it comes to my "wagyu"--whatever the heck that is...Looks like they were limited anyway.  Red pockets are used to gift money to Chinese children.  Large amounts capable of buying small cars in some cases, so I hear.

 A very pleasant 90 minute walk around Victoria Peak.  I got zapped by a flu bug in Hong Kong and wimped my way through 5 of the 7 days we were there, but I did drag my bones out of bed for a mighty romp above Hong Kong.  Disneyland will have to wait.  I wanted to get my money's worth there.

We were flying past this trying to catch a ferry, but I just had to stop and document the Hong Kong Apple Store genius bar line.  Iphone 6 was in its barely-just-home-from-the-hospital-keeping-everybody-up infancy stage.

 My new Canon that I bought in Hong Kong takes amazing low light shots!!

I guess you could call this "Fortune Row" because each little space houses an honest-to-goodness fortune teller!  Dozens of them!

Take this gal, for instance.  She's waiting patiently for a customer, browsing the web as she ponders perhaps  her next brush with prognostication profundity.  As I suspected, even the most exotic of jobs eventually become somewhat routine..

Just plain cool.


I counted 12 bags of Chinese takeout!  I hope he gets tipped!

Paco--doing his best Happy Buddha imitation!

 A special shout out to the Myers!  We discovered this Turkish cafe tucked away and dined there twice.  When the management wasn't looking, I squirted those bottles of sauce on the tables straight into my purse--oh my goodness--they were magnificent.

THIS guy!!  Let me tell you about THIS guy!!  He was writing these Chinese characters using nothing but salt or sugar dribbled from one hand!!!!!  I know!!!!!  I should have taken a front shot, but once again we were racing to catch a ferry.

As if we need a reminder that we're a long way from home...Happy New Year to All.

Favorite books

  • Me 'n Steve
  • Thundering Sneakers
  • James Herriott's vet books
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Travels with Charley
  • A Walk in the Woods
  • Peace Like a River
  • The Egg and I
  • Mary Poppins
  • Extremly Loud Incredibly Close
  • How Green Was my Valley